Rich variety of bird life and flowers found in Qinghai

Autumn flowering Gentians in Qinghai
Autumn flowering Gentians in Qinghai

Bird life in the Tibetan province of Qinghai proved to be surprisingly rich for such a high altitude plateau, our speaker, Dr Stan da Prato, informed members of the SWT Berwickshire Members Centre at our February meeting.

Much of the Qinghai plateau is treeless and the birds of prey have taken to perching on telephone and electric poles along the roadside, as the poles make ideal substitutes for perches, which in turn makes them very obvious and easy to find. A selection of Buzzards, Falcons and Vultures were illustrated and it proved quite easy to get close enough to photograph them as they were relatively fearless, they do not appear to be persecuted, in fact, the local Tibetan people appreciate them for helping clear away the carrion from fallen stock and the winter casualties amongst the wild animals.

The Lammergeyer or Bearded Vulture is a specialist in eating bones and to break up large bones they fly to a great height with a bone and drop it onto rocks, where, with luck it will smash up into sections which it can swallow.

Koko Nor or the Qinghai Lake is the largest lake in China and is at 3205m or 10,515 feet. It smells and looks like the seaside, especially as rock outcrops have nesting Cormorants in the breeding season. This is a famous area for waterfowl, many species of duck nest in the surrounding marshes including Ruddy Shelduck. The distinctive Bar-headed Goose with two black bars on its light coloured head is common but most spectacular are the tall and elegant Black-necked Cranes with their black heads and necks and light ash grey bodies.

Pheasants hail from the Himalaya and China and Stan was fortunate in being able not only to see but to photograph one of the most remarkable species, the Lady Amherst’s Pheasant, the males have spectacular long tails which are white barred with black. The females are shades of brown much like our pheasants in Berwickshire.

One or two familar birds were seen, Wren, Raven and Magpie and the Dipper had a black breast rather than white, otherwise it looked similar.

The second part of the talk in Duns looked at some of the flowers found on expeditions in mid summer and early autumn. The high altitude meadows are green in summer and amongst the grass can be found several species of Meconopsis, commonly known as Himalayan Blue Poppies. Here they are in several colours, red Meconopsis punicea, yellow M. integrifolia and lilac M. quintuplinervia, all three species are quite commonly cultivated in gardens. Two blue poppies were found but both are biennials, that is they die after flowering, M. horridula has attractive blue flowers but all parts of the plant are covered with sharp, horrid spines except for the blue petals, the other species, M. prattii has an upright stem with several pale blue flowers but is nowhere near as attractive as its Himalayan cousins.